My research examines the ways in which grassroots innovations foster sustainability cultures and worldviews, and how different radical visions of sustainability shape the kind of action grassroots initiatives undertake. Viewing sustainability experiments as a kind of story-telling by communities where narratives frame the actions and solutions that emerge, my research examines sustainability visions within civil society groups, how they are narrated differently among grassroots actors and what kind of actions they give rise to.

By viewing grassroots innovations as sites of alternative knowledges and cultures, and by examining the ways in which grassroots innovations provide alternative visions and ways of doing/being that support sustainability transitions, this research project aims to bridge the current theoretical gap in understanding the role of narratives and culture in the formation and stabilisation of novel, bottom-up sustainability experiments.

It does so through an in-depth case study of the Dark Mountain Project, a cultural movement that emerged from a critique of the progress narrative of modern societies. Providing a space for experimenting with forms of life that are rooted in concepts and practices which move beyond the master narrative of progress, the Dark Mountain Project encourages the creation of stories which re-narrate human agency and our relationship with nature.

Investigating the various ways in which the narrative is expressed in participants' lives, as well as the organisational frameworks, technologies and modes of communication by which it travels, the project aims to show the role of narrative in transitions. Using narrative inquiry and methods the research analyses a range of data, from interviews and participant observation to existing texts and artistic expressions, in order to build a theoretical understanding of the ways in which culture and worldviews inform and shape social change.

The intention is not to reduce a plurality of viewpoints to a master or meta-narrative but to open up to differences in values and interests. Because sustainability is more a question of being or becoming than rational decision-making, narratives may provide a link between individual and wider social/ecological sustainability. In this way, grassroots innovations are conceptualised as sites of change for deeper transitions in ways of knowing and being.


Research diary

I write about the research process in an online diary which was set up as a space is for rehearsing and experimenting with ideas, exploring the writing process, reflecting on the process of writing a thesis, and providing some link between myself and my imagined audience.

Narrative analysis

I use narrative methods to examine the actions that emerge from grassroots innovations. Much narrative research focus on individual stories but narrative analysis can be applied to communities as well, recognising that narratives work within interpretive communities of speakers and listeners who are both political and cultural actors. Narratives tend to be viewed as transformative because identities are in some way storied. Narratives can also be seen to represent local forms of knowledge and, importantly, narratives of local knowledge connect with each other so that larger narratives can emerge. I have produced two documents where I explore in more detail what narrative inquiry entails and how I employ narrative methods in my research:

1. Narrative methods and my approach

I analyse the Dark Mountain narrative as a counter-narrative insofar as my focus is how the narrative opens up new perspectives and actions. This means that the analytical point is the speaker's characterisation of the world and event sequences.

2. Doing narrative ethnography

The ambition is to create an in-depth case study without exerting 'epistemic violence' by recognising that 'stories are completed in the reader'. I aim to tackle the issue of 'putting everything before us' in the open by maintaining as high a level of transparency as possible.

Research plan

You can read in more detail about the background theory and my research objectives in this research plan, which was a document I wrote for my upgrade meeting at the beginning of my second year. Many aspects of the research have already changed but I offer it here as an overview of the literatures my research draws on.

  1. 1.Introduction and contribution

  2. 2.Sustainable consumption

  3. 3.Sustainability transitions

  4. 4.Grassroots innovations

  5. 5.Research aims

  6. 6.Bibliography

Case study

The Dark Mountain Project’s manifesto sought to blow life into new stories that challenge the myth of progress and the project of civilisation itself - a call that was heard far beyond literary and artistic circles and inspired a range of creative, social experiments. You can find some of my interviews with mountaineers and reflections on the project here.

Back to phd main page